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How To Select The Right Case

Crиme De La Crиme: Special Edition 815 Boards and Useful Add-Ons

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How To Add Front - Mounted Ports To Your Case
Краткое содержание статьи: Okay, okay... you can stop sending emails asking me for the best way to add ports to the front of a case that does not have them. We looked around to find the best way to answer your queries. Like many projects at THG, this was perhaps more difficult that it might have first appeared. With the help of one of our retailer friends, we found a product that fit the bill, and here we'll give you an in-depth look at the install process.

How To Add Front - Mounted Ports To Your Case


Introduction

The article first appeared in Tom's Hard News Email Newsletter

In May, I wrote an article entitled, How To Select The Right Case, and after publication of that article, one common question kept arriving in my mailbox: "how do you add front-mounted ports to older PC cases that are still very functional, but do not offer the conveniences of front-mounted ports?"

With the advent of all of the new portable USB and Firewire technology, situations may arise where you'll want to plug in a digital camera or an MP3 player to pull or push data, and then want the convenience of disconnecting that plug-in device to take it with you. And what a pain it can be to have to reach around to the back of your PC to find the correct port! Further, many PCs are located in close-fitting desk spaces, and these environments often lack sufficient lighting to enable you to see what you are doing, and where you are plugging things in, which makes the process a real chore.

The latest case technology addresses this problem by offering mounting ports in the front of the case. In many cases, these ports are covered by slick, quick opening doors that expose them only when you need to access them. Cases such as the Antec 1080 Performance Plus, Lian-Li PC69, Cooler Master ATX-210, and many others already offer this technology.

If you have already purchased a good, sturdy case that you are happy with, but want to enjoy convenient access to its ports, your options have been limited. Our own Patrick Schmid took a look at some of these early add-ins in his article entitled, Crиme De La Crиme: Special Edition 815 Boards and Useful Add-Ons. This technology has continued to evolve since publication of Patrick's article. Currently, there are a variety of options that can be added to help move ports from the back of your computer to the front of the case.

The majority of these devices use the principle of a 5-1/4 bay mounted solution that uses extension cables that run from the inside of your case out to the back, and plug into the corresponding ports on the back of your system. Although some may argue that this isn't the most elegant solution, it does get the job done. In some cases, it is possible to customize the cable configuration to plug everything in within the case, but this is only if your motherboard or add-in cards offer such internal connections.

If an option for mounting USB ports into the front of your PC case is what you seek, a front-mounted, four-port USB hub might be a good solution. If you happen to have additional USB ports on your motherboard that you are not using, then a device such as Antec's Easy USB might be the ticket for you. (However, if the connector on your motherboard isn't compatible with the Easy USB cable, you might have to spend a little time re-wiring the cable to suit your application.) We did not happen to have an Antec Easy USB for testing, so we had to seek solutions elsewhere.

How To Add Front-Mounted Ports To Your PC Case, Continued

We attended a local computer show to see what we could find. During our time at the show, we found a device from Easy-Connections, called the "Easy-Connections 4 Port USB Hub." This four-port powered USB Hub can be placed in any 5-1/4 or 3-1/2 drive bay, and will then draw its power from your internal power supply. To install the device, simply mount the Easy-Connections 4 Port USB Hub in any open drive bay, then mount the cabled bracket to the back of your computer and plug it in to any USB port on the back of your machine. Like Antec's Easy USB device, it might be possible to connect the Easy-Connections 4 Port USB Hub directly to an open USB connector on the motherboard, but Easy-Connections offers very little pin out information in the manual, so you are on your own if you don't want to run the cable outside the back of your computer. The construction of the Easy-Connections 4 Port USB Hub isn't flashy, but the cost is reasonable. According to the Easy-Connections website, they offer a more advanced version of this device that supports both USB and 1394/ Firewire, and this version might be worth seeking out if you need 1394/ Firewire support.

Easy-Connections offers a powered USB hub that can fit into any 5-1/4 or 3-1/2 drive bay.  If you are just looking to move your USB ports to the front of the computer, this reasonably priced solution might just fit the bill.
Easy-Connections offers a powered USB hub that can fit into any 5-1/4 or 3-1/2 drive bay. If you are just looking to move your USB ports to the front of the computer, this reasonably priced solution might just fit the bill.

Some users who own Asus motherboards might be better off with the Asus iPanel Basic or iPanel Deluxe. Both of these devices require that the Asus motherboard have an iPanel connector on the motherboard, and not all Asus motherboards have this connector. (As an example, the P4TE that we were using as our test system does not offer an iPanel connector.) The iPanel isn't as flexible as other solutions that use cables to plug into the back of the system. instead, the iPanel relies on the Asus motherboard user having a configuration that is compatible with the iPanel. Asus provides excellent documentation so that it is possible to build your own custom cables to integrate into the standard Asus configuration. However, if you own one of these motherboards without the integrated audio design, unless you build a custom cable, the audio functions of the iPanel are useless. The iPanel is one of the only devices we have seen that works with the hardware monitoring that is built into the system to provide information such as POST codes and temperature reading. This is innovative technology, but idiosyncrasies such as the absence of 1394/ Firewire support might leave some users wondering why they didn't choose another solution if they need maximum connection flexibility.

The Asus iPanel technology offers a lot of bang for the buck, but if you don't happen to own one of the Asus motherboards that offer iPanel support, you are out of luck.  In addition, the iPanel Basic model can be difficult to mount in a 5-1/4-drive bay that uses rails, due to the lack of multiple screw holes.  A single screw holding the iPanel Basic into the case can result in a less than sturdy mount of the iPanel basic.
The Asus iPanel technology offers a lot of bang for the buck, but if you don't happen to own one of the Asus motherboards that offer iPanel support, you are out of luck. In addition, the iPanel Basic model can be difficult to mount in a 5-1/4-drive bay that uses rails, due to the lack of multiple screw holes. A single screw holding the iPanel Basic into the case can result in a less than sturdy mount of the iPanel basic.

In our quest to find a good answer to this problem, we wanted a dealer's perspective, so we asked Michael Chang at Directron to offer some suggestions that might be helpful to users who want to add this type of functionality to their cases. Michael explained that at present there are few devices that 'fit the bill.' This is partly due to the continuing trend of case manufacturers integrating this type of functionality only into their newest cases, but Directron offers several solutions that will get the job done. Michael recommended that we look at the Enermax EN-006-TM1 Multifunction Transfer Panel, which offers one of the greatest ranges of flexibility for a reasonable amount money. Michael explained that many users do not know about devices such as the EN-006-TM1, and this could explain why they are not more popular.

Enermax EN-006-TM1 - Multifunction Transfer Panel

Michael Chang from http://www.directron.com sent us the Enermax EN-006-TM1 Multifunction Transfer Panel for us to look over.  It quickly became one of our favorite solutions for solving this challenge.
Michael Chang from http://www.directron.com sent us the Enermax EN-006-TM1 Multifunction Transfer Panel for us to look over. It quickly became one of our favorite solutions for solving this challenge.

Enermax is a name that, at THG, is more associated with power supplies than anything else. In addition to power supplies, Enermax offers a complete line of computer accessories as well as computer cases. Most of the accessories center around products for use with a computer case. The introduction of the Multifunction Transfer Panel is an example of how Enermax is using its well-respected name to branch out into new markets that are still somewhat related to the power supply arena.

The Multifunction Transfer Panel (or EN-006-TM1) is designed to be mounted in any empty 5-1/4 bay in your case. The EN-006-TM1 offers two USB 1.1 ports, one 1394 Firewire Port, one Line In Port, one Line Out Port, and one Game Port. In addition to these port connections, the EN-006-TM1 also includes an LCD temperature display for displaying the internal temperatures within your PC case.

A close-up look at the front of the Enermax EN-006-TM1.
A close-up look at the front of the Enermax EN-006-TM1.

As we explained above, the EN-006-TM1 uses extension cables that are routed to the back of the case to connect to these devices, in order to transfer the ports to the front of the EN-006-TM1. Based on this simple principle, it is very easy to use and very easy to install.

The twelve-page manual that is included with the EN-006-TM1 is a little rough around the edges, but most users will be able to figure out what it is attempting to explain, thanks to the use of good, explanatory pictures that illustrate every part of the installation process.

Looking at the EN-006-TM1 from the inside, you can see how itconnects to the included cables to transfer your ports to the font of the case.
Looking at the EN-006-TM1 from the inside, you can see how it connects to the included cables to transfer your ports to the font of the case.

Enermax EN-006-TM1 - Multifunction Transfer Panel, Continued

The cables included with the EN-006-TM1 are only 36 inches long, which is sufficient for most installations; however the EN-006-TM1 manual does not include any pin out information, such as, for example, what to do if you want to connect the USB cables to a internal USB connection on the motherboard. Upon close inspection, it does appear that Enermax tried to stick with fairly standard cables for use with the EN-006-TM1, but finding the correct cable in the correct length might present some challenges.

The 36-inch cables that are included with the EN-006-TM1 are standard in many ways, but the lack of pin out information can cause you problems if you want to take advantage of internal ports that are on your motherboard.  You will have to make some modifications to the included cables and connectors.
The 36-inch cables that are included with the EN-006-TM1 are standard in many ways, but the lack of pin out information can cause you problems if you want to take advantage of internal ports that are on your motherboard. You will have to make some modifications to the included cables and connectors.

With a cable length of just 36 inches, you might have some problems installing the EN-006-TM1 in a full tower configuration, where longer cables are very helpful. If you are planning to route the cables within your case and need more cable length to do so, you are on your own. We encourage Enermax to update the manual, or to make the pin out information available to users who have the need for such information.

When taking a close look at the internal connections on the EN-006-TM1, it is good to see that Enermax used connectors that are oriented in such a way that it is difficult to plug the cables into the EN-006-TM1 the wrong way.
When taking a close look at the internal connections on the EN-006-TM1, it is good to see that Enermax used connectors that are oriented in such a way that it is difficult to plug the cables into the EN-006-TM1 the wrong way.

We found the design and construction of the EN-006-TM1 to be first rate. The EN-006-TM1 is able to handle rails with no problem, and this is something that we cannot say about other devices in this class. The unit, when mounted in a case using rails, is rock solid and shows no movement, even with the most aggressive of cable connections.

The sturdy 5-1/4 frame that surrounds the EN-006-TM1 uses easy-to-mount rails, which is a welcome relief from other bay devices that don't provide a good way to mount the device in the drive bay using rails.  Although some cases no longer use rails, many of the higher end cases still do, thus, it is important for manufacturers to take this fact into consideration when designing these devices.
The sturdy 5-1/4 frame that surrounds the EN-006-TM1 uses easy-to-mount rails, which is a welcome relief from other bay devices that don't provide a good way to mount the device in the drive bay using rails. Although some cases no longer use rails, many of the higher end cases still do, thus, it is important for manufacturers to take this fact into consideration when designing these devices.

The included, battery-powered Temperature Display indicates the inside-case temperature reading in Celsius only. The button-style battery in the EN-006-TM1 is fairly easy to change. After disconnecting and removing the unit, all you have to do is slide off the battery back on the temperature display unit and replace the battery. We examined the accuracy of the temperature display on the EN-006-TM1 by comparing it with the reading from our Raytech that we use here in the lab. We found that the EN-006-TM1 was within a couple of degrees (plus or minus) of our readings. We considered its performance about what would be expected for a temperature device of this type.

Installing Front-Mounted Ports With The EN-006-TM1

We used our Asus P4T-E 2.2GHz Pentium 4 test system, housed in an Antec SX1000 case, as our test installation system. This system already has an Adaptec DuoConnect USB 2.0/ Firewire card installed, so we chose to make use of this in our install process. Since the Atech Flash Pro II multi-format flash card reader was already connected to the USB port on the motherboard, we elected to run all of the cables out the back of the PC and connect them that way. However, since the DuoConnect offers internal connections on the board itself, we could have opted to connect the USB and Firewire connections internally. As you will see below, we had other plans.

First, since the Antec SX1000 case uses rails, we had to mount rails on to the EN-006-TM1. This was a painless process and we encountered no problems adding them onto the EN-006-TM1.

Installing Front-Mounted Ports With The EN-006-TM1

After the rails were mounted on the unit, we attached the cables to the EN-006-TM1 to determine how the cables attached to the unit. After doing so, we found that we were going to have a lot of cables to route through the PC. Since we didn't want to obstruct airflow or make a mess inside the case, we needed to find a solution to help keep better control of the cables.

Installing Front-Mounted Ports With The EN-006-TM1

Of course, we could have elected to use standard wire ties to hold the cables in place, but if you have a window on the side of you case (or you just don't generally like a cabled mess, like us), then you need a better solution. We found this solution in the automotive world, and it goes by the name of a 'wire loom.' Wire looms have been used in the automotive industry for sometime. 'Case Modders' (those who modify their PC cases) have found that this idea also works very well in controlling the tangled mess of cables that are inside a PC. Now available in a variety of colors and styles, wire looms not only manage the cabled mess inside, but, if you happen to have a side window in your case, it also makes the sight of the insides of the PC much neater.

Installing Front-Mounted Ports With The EN-006-TM1, Continued

Wire looms come in all shapes and sizes.  The fancy Chrome Loomz from Street Glow were suggested by the folks at http://www.directron.com who have been selling these wire looms for some time.  These new Chrome Loomz really dress up the look of your case through your side window.  We didn't happen to have the Chrome Loomz in the 5/8
Wire looms come in all shapes and sizes. The fancy Chrome Loomz from Street Glow were suggested by the folks at http://www.directron.com who have been selling these wire looms for some time. These new Chrome Loomz really dress up the look of your case through your side window. We didn't happen to have the Chrome Loomz in the 5/8" size that we needed for the cables on the EN-006-TM1, so we had to make a trip to the hardware store to pick up some 5/8" black wire looms in the electrical aisle.

As you can see in the picture below, once the wire loom is placed over the cables coming out of the EN-006-TM1, the organization looks a lot better and the cables are easier to manage, and perhaps a little easier to install in the PC.

Installing Front-Mounted Ports With The EN-006-TM1, Continued

Next, you'll want to place the cables in their proposed location(s) within the case. Notice that we have the cables for the EN-006-TM1 hanging out of the front 5-1/4" bay where we are going to install it. Doing this will help you figure out the path you want to take to move the cables through the PC and out the back of the case. In our case, we wanted to take advantage of the space above the rear fans, as well as the cross member that runs across the center of the case. This was a good guide, as well as a nice way to tuck the cables contained in the wire loom out of the way. After you are finished plotting out path through the case, you will want to remove the wire loom from the cables.

Installing Front-Mounted Ports With The EN-006-TM1, Continued

Installing Front-Mounted Ports With The EN-006-TM1, Continued

Now that you have your wire loom cut, and know how you are going to run the cables through your case, it is time to get down to business. Next, feed the cables through the open slot in the PC case, then feed the cables from the back with the connectors that connect to the EN-006-TM1 first, as demonstrated in the picture below.

Installing Front-Mounted Ports With The EN-006-TM1, Continued

Once you have fed the cables into the inside of your PC, slide the cut out slot cover that is included with the EN-006-TM1 over the cables. You will want to be careful, as we found a few metal shavings on the slot cover, which we filed off first so as not to cut the cable jackets. Once you slide the slot cover all the way to the back of the PC, mount the slot cover to the PC. You will next want to connect to the ports on the back of the PC; we used a single wire tie to help hold the cables in position at this point. After we completed the installation, it was suggested that we could have picked up a rubber washer, which would have helped hold and better control the cables going through the hole in the slot cover.

Installing Front-Mounted Ports With The EN-006-TM1, Continued

Now, we are ready to put the wire loom back over the top of the cables to hold them together. (We removed the video card that was in the AGP slot so that we had more space to work.) When putting the wire loom over the cables, it is best to slide the wire loom over the cables slowly, while at the same time trying to keep the cables that are going into the loom as straight as possible.

Installing Front-Mounted Ports With The EN-006-TM1, Continued

Installing Front-Mounted Ports With The EN-006-TM1, Continued

With the cable path that we chose to use, we didn't have a lot of extra slack with which to play, so it was important to connect the cables to the EN-006-TM1 and slide the wire loom into the drive bay before we finished running our cables the rest of the way through the case.

Installing Front-Mounted Ports With The EN-006-TM1, Continued

Now, we can route the cables over the top of the rear fans, up along to the power supply and then across to the EN-006-TM1. As you can see, we were able to tuck the cables into this space in the case, which gave us a nice, clean look.

Installing Front-Mounted Ports With The EN-006-TM1, Continued

In the picture taken at this angle, you can see how good this looks and how well the EN-006-TM1 fits into this case.

Once you are satisfied with the routing of your cables, you could use a couple of black wire ties to hold it all in place, if you like. Now is a good time to place the temperature probe in the location you want to monitor within the case.

Installing Front-Mounted Ports With The EN-006-TM1, Continued

Looking at the back of the PC, you can see how each of the cables were attached to the system. We attached the USB and Firewire cables to the DuoConnect. This did give us a little more room, since we didn't have to run the cables all the way up to the motherboard external USB ports, which were a longer distance than it was to the DuoConnect card. It would be nice if Enermax would make the cables longer, because, as you can see in this installation, we really didn't have much room to spare. Using a washer, as suggested above, would also help seal the slot cover well and prevent dust from entering the PC.

Installing Front-Mounted Ports With The EN-006-TM1, Continued

Installing Front-Mounted Ports With The EN-006-TM1, Continued

Here is what the front of the PC looks like with the EN-006-TM1 installed. The unit looks good from the front. The temperature LCD is easy to read at this level; however, it would be even better if there were a button to turn on a nice, blue backlight. Then again, at this price, the option of backlighting the LCD might be asking too much.

Installing Front-Mounted Ports With The EN-006-TM1, Continued

An Excellent Addition For The Price!

Our impression of the EN-006-TM1 was better than we expected, and we recommend this device for purchase. The EN-006-TM1 offers a solid design and worked well in our testing. If we had a complaint about anything, it is that the manual needs improvement and that the cables could be a little longer. And, it also would have been nice if the LCD on the EN-006-TM1 were backlit.

If you have a case that you like and you want the added flexibility of having your ports on the front of your PC, there is no reason why a solution such as the EN-006-TM1 can't deliver what you seek, and for a modest cost. Building products that are based on good ideas often leads to some of the most innovative solutions to the most basic of problems.

If it isn't time for a new case, there are options that can breathe new life into your old one. Maybe this is not as 'cool' as adding a new processor or video card, but the convenience that this solution offers is more of a productivity enhancement than a new processor or video card can provide. It is a shame that, because devices such as the EN-006-TM1 are not 'sexy' or hyped as the newest hot thing, they don't get the kind of coverage and kudos that they deserve. After all, isn't computing about working smarter, rather than harder?




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